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Space and the 'March of Mind'Literature and the Physical Sciences in Britain 1815-1850$
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Alice Jenkins

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780199209927

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199209927.001.0001

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Bodies in Space: Ether, Light, and the Beginnings of the Field

Bodies in Space: Ether, Light, and the Beginnings of the Field

Chapter:
(p.176) 6 Bodies in Space: Ether, Light, and the Beginnings of the Field
Source:
Space and the 'March of Mind'
Author(s):

Alice Jenkins (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199209927.003.0007

This chapter argues that physics in the early 19th century was radically changing the nature of conceptions of space, essentially by dematerializing it. Contrary to the accepted account of Victorian culture as increasingly rooted in the material, the story of Victorian physics is one of jettisoning material explanations for phenomena. The contemporary success of the theory that light is a wave rather than a particle is one indication of the rise of dematerializing explanations in the period; another is the development of field theory. Field theory, particularly in its early form as propounded by Michael Faraday, collapses the distinction between matter and space, describing them instead as greater and lesser intensities of lines of electromagnetic and other forces. Field theory thus dramatically undermined all previous conceptions of space as passive container for material objects and paved the way for the energy physics of the late 19th century.

Keywords:   physics, field theory, Michael Faraday, space

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